Budget Advisory Committee weighs in on balancing the Dal budget

BAC's second report of the year released

- February 28, 2013


The Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) is recommending a varied approach to balancing the university’s operating budget for 2013-14, with the goal of minimizing fee increases and cuts to faculties and services.

In its first report, released in January, the committee identified that even with a 3 per cent tuition increase — the maximum allowed by the province in most programs —Dalhousie would still need to balance a $17.6 million shortfall. (Read: Dal News' "BACgrounder.")

In its follow-up report, the BAC is recommending cost savings in a variety of areas, including using $6 million in reserve funds set aside in previous years, to avoid more significant cuts this year. The approach would mean all faculties and service units would manage a 3.5 per cent cut next year, saving $8.2 million.

Read: Budget Advisory Committee Report L [PDF]

“Even keeping this year’s across-the-board reduction to 3.5 per cent means our faculties and units will have managed reductions of 9.4 per cent over the past three years,” explains Carolyn Watters, vice-president academic and provost and chair of the Budget Advisory Committee. “Given this, the committee believes an approach that looks for savings in a variety of areas is the right approach, rather than asking for larger budget reductions that may put the quality of our programs and services at risk.”

She adds that the university’s three-year look-ahead budget planning within Faculties and service units has been presuming a minimum 3 per cent reduction for the coming year, given the state of provincial funding. The recommended budget model keeps those plans on target.

“We’ve been preparing for this, and that’s why we’re able to apply a varied approach to balancing the budget,” adds Dr. Watters.

In addition to the 3.5 per cent reduction and the reserve funds, the BAC is recommending savings in a number of areas:

  • Further reductions in select budget areas:
    o    3 per cent reduction in non-space equipment ($75,000)
    o    1 per cent reduction in student assistance ($101,000)
    o    1 per cent reduction in library acquisitions ($64,000)
  • Reducing strategic initiative funding for this year by $1.3 million.
  • Forgoing the scheduled $1 million increase in the facilities renewal budget.
  • $800,000 decrease in the budget based on reduction from the historic pricing for heating fuel.

As in its first report, the BAC is projecting Dalhousie’s overall enrolment will be the same year-over-year.

Tuition and fees for 2013-14

The recommendations for tuition and fees have also been released by the BAC. There are no surprises for general tuition: as indicated throughout its planning process, the BAC is recommending a tuition increase of 3 per cent.

What it’s not recommending are any further increases in areas where the province’s cap doesn’t apply: medicine, law, dentistry or the international differential fee. All of those areas will see the same 3 per cent increase as the rest of the university.

This is partly because those areas have all seen larger increases in recent years, but also because the BAC is leading a review of the university’s Tuition Policy, which outlines the factors that inform how Dal sets tuition rates.

“Given that it’s been some time since the policy was last officially reviewed, the president has asked us to consider if its principles still apply or whether we need to consider other factors when looking at tuition fee changes,” says Dr. Watters. “We didn’t feel it was appropriate to recommend fee increases this year beyond the 3 per cent until our community can weigh in on a new policy.”

Read: Fee Recommendations and Draft Tuition Policy [PDF]

The policy is one of the topics up for discussion at this year’s student consultations on budget, tuition and fees. Students can learn more about the budget and ask questions at one of three consultation sessions the week of March 11. The BAC leadership will also be present and answer questions at that week’s DSU council meeting.

  • Studley Campus: Monday, March 11, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Student Union Building Room 303
  • Carleton/Sexton Campuses: Tuesday, March 12, 5-6 p.m., Dentistry Building Room 4116
  • Dalhousie Student Union council meeting: Wednesday, March 13, 6:30 p.m., Council Chambers, Student Union Building
  • Agricultural Campus: Thursday, March 14, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Room 24, Cox Institute

Students who are unable to attend the consultation sessions can share their thoughts by emailing bac@dal.ca by March 18. The sessions will also be able to be viewed on the web, with details to follow next week in Sticky Notes. The committee will report back to students on the feedback by April 1.

Looking ahead

The Board of Governors is scheduled to vote on tuition and fees in April, ahead of its vote on the final operating budget in June.

Provided the BAC recommendations are adopted, it will be up to faculty or service units to find 3.5 per cent in cost savings, similar to how it’s been done in the past. Some of the ways units may look for savings include tapping into reserve funds; finding turnover savings from faculty or staff that retire or leave the university; considering rationalizing programs or services; finding reductions in non-salary budgets; generating new streams of revenue; and, if need be, personnel.

So if that’s what 2013-14 might look like, what lies ahead for the 2014-15 budget?

“After three years of cuts, it’s crucial that we work with the province and the other universities in Nova Scotia to begin increasing our provincial operating grant once again,” says Dr. Watters. “The current Memorandum of Understanding commits the province to increasing the grant by a funding stability mechanism that ensures some predictability, and we’re working with all parties to help meet this goal.”

That’s not to say that increased funding will be the entire solution next year: as noted in the BAC report, a modest increase of 2 per cent to Dal’s operating grant next year would still require an estimated 3.5 per cent budget reduction due to rising operating costs.

However, a stable funding formula might allow Dalhousie, where appropriate, to provide students with a multi-year outlook on tuition fees — one of the ideas that’s up for consideration in the draft Tuition Policy.


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